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  • Rob Haywood

Taming Workplace Hazards: The Hierarchy of Controls Made Simple

Taming Workplace Hazards: The Hierarchy of Controls Made Simple


In the hustle and bustle of the workplace, where machinery hums, chemicals swirl, and human hands skillfully navigate tasks, safety is paramount. But how do we ensure that our work environments are free from harm?



Heavy Industry Engineering Factory Interior with Industrial Worker Using Angle Grinder and Cutting a Metal Tube.
Heavy Industry Engineering Factory Interior with Industrial Worker Using Angle Grinder and Cutting a Metal Tube.


Enter the hierarchy of controls, a trusty guide that helps organizations tackle workplace hazards with precision and effectiveness.


The hierarchy of controls is like a safety ladder, with each rung representing a different approach to risk reduction. At the top, we have the gold standard: hazard elimination. This means removing the hazard altogether, like replacing sharp tools with blunt ones or redesigning workstations to eliminate slips and falls. By tackling the root cause, we prevent accidents from happening in the first place.


When elimination is not feasible, we turn to substitution. This involves swapping out a hazardous substance or process with a safer alternative. Think switching from flammable solvents to water-based ones or using mechanical devices to replace manual handling tasks. Substitution not only reduces the risk of harm but also promotes a healthier and more sustainable work environment.


If elimination and substitution are out of reach, we descend to the next rung: engineering controls. These are physical barriers or engineered solutions that isolate workers from hazards. Think safety guards on machinery, ventilation systems to remove airborne contaminants, or automatic shut-off mechanisms for dangerous equipment. Engineering controls act as protective shields, preventing workers from encountering hazards directly.

If engineering controls aren't practical, we move to administrative controls. These are procedures, training, and work practices that minimize exposure to hazards. Clear work instructions, safe work procedures, regular safety training, and enforced safety policies all fall under this category. Administrative controls foster a safety culture within the organization, ensuring that everyone understands the hazards, follows safe practices, and receives the necessary training to work safely.


Finally, when all else fails, we reach for the last line of defence: personal protective equipment (PPE). This includes safety glasses, gloves, respirators, hearing protection, and other protective gear. While PPE is not the ideal solution, it plays a vital role in protecting workers from exposure to hazards that cannot be eliminated, substituted, or controlled effectively with engineering or administrative controls.


The hierarchy of controls is like a safety compass, guiding organizations towards the most effective and lasting risk-reduction measures. By prioritising the top rungs, we can minimise the risk of accidents and injuries, create a healthier work environment, and foster a culture of safety that benefits everyone. So, remember the hierarchy of controls, and let's make our workplaces safer for all.

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